William entered the council room. He looked around cautiously. Everything was going too smoothly, he expected a snake to jump out and try to bite him, or the building to suddenly collapse. Neither of those things happened, of course. Instead, he saw a dozen figures seated on a raised platform. However, other than the raised platform, there wasn’t anything designed to make them appear more intimidating or important. The lighting covered the room evenly so their faces could be seen, and they were all arrayed in one direction so that they could all be seen at once instead of having to turn back and forth.
The guard at the door announced William and the rest when they entered, though of course William had given his name as Yu Hui’lam.
“Welcome to the chamber of the council,” one of the men on the platform spoke, “You may proceed with your… normally I say petition, but that is not what you are here for. Proceed to speak what you must.”
While the people of Ustil might beat around the bush when they didn’t want to say something, they could also be very straightforward when they wished to say something. William was glad for that, because he wasn’t sure if he had the patience to come up with flowery language to say what he wanted and not make it sound stupid. Still, he wanted these people on his side, and they hadn’t done anything to him except make things feel too easy, so he tried to speak respectfully. “Thank you for the chance to speak. I bring a message of dire news, but also hope. The Demon King will be returning in less than two dozen years.” He paused to let them take in that information, waiting for the slight murmuring of whispers to die down before he continued, “However, we are working on creating an alliance between all the nations, and we even have a method that might kill the Demon King once and for all.”
At that, William heard an intake of breath, the first actual sign of surprise. “A way to kill him permanently? That is indeed important information. You will have our full cooperation.” Murmurs of assent echoed throughout the chamber.
William just stared at the group. “Shouldn’t you hear the plan first?”
“Of course we will hear the plan,” a woman in the group spoke, “otherwise we would not be able to assist you.”
“What if the plan turned out to be very terrible? How can you be so trusting in someone you’ve never met?”
“It is not that we trust you, directly,” a wizened old man spoke. “Rather, it is that we know you must come bearing the plan with the most optimal results. It has been prophesied.”
“So, someone just said something vague and you interpreted it to mean you should blindly follow what someone holding a certain staff said?” William immediately regretted saying that, even as the words were leaving his mouth.
There were a few moments of silence, then the same old man spoke again. “I see that you do not believe in prophecy.” He held up his hand as William was about to speak. “No need to defend your position. It is widely held, and not entirely incorrect. You may have heard practice of divination magic and prophecy is often said to be incapable of even predicting what a person’s next meal will be.” William nodded slightly, and the man smiled. “That is not untrue. However, that is not a proper use of divination magic. Tell me, does it matter what one person will eat next? It does not, and thus a person might change their mind and get something else. Besides, such a minor event is hard to discern, even if it were not arbitrary.” The man paused for a moment before continuing his explanation, “However, that is not the case for more important, larger scale divination magic. There, details are often lost, but less important. For example, there might be an upcoming war. How certain battles will go, or when they will occur… such things fluctuate and are unclear. However, without any major changes, one side will most likely be the victor. That information, however, is not useful unless you are the winning side. If you are the losing side, you want to grasp for that chance for your country to be the victor… or at least for the war to end without one. At that point, you could attempt to look into the future, seeing all of the different possibilities, and grasp upon a chance. That might be possible… though it might take a dozen years, after which the war has already started and ended, and you are left with only an unverifiable possibility of what could have been.”
William was actually listening intently. Ostana had long ago dismissed divination as useless, and William could see why. What someone saw could be only what they wanted to see, and it wasn’t clear if any divination actually told of the future. It was even possible that details were filled in after events were over, making the wizard believe that the prediction was specific and correct, when it really meant nothing. However, whether it worked or not, William enjoyed listening to this man talk about divination and how it might work.
“If one cannot even win a war, or even change the flow of it in almost any capacity, what good is divination?” The old man stroked his chin as a slight smile was growing. “However, even with all of these failed points, a working method can be brought together. First, the event in question must be very important… affecting many people. It might be an event involving a war, perhaps one between two large nations, or more than two. It must also involve major change, for if things stay the same no matter who wins… what can be predicted? Then, time must be spent determining what can actually be done about the events, combing over the details for years before finding a useful possibility… more importantly, a useful probability, because if the events in question are unlikely to happen, grasping onto that chance is almost impossible.” The old man saw that William was actually listening and not just being polite, so he continued. “For one specific example… there might be a great war. This war affects five great nations. If things go poorly, four of the nations struggle against the fifth, mightiest nation, eventually losing completely. They might form alliances, two, three, or all four of them… or they might try to survive on their own. Regardless, none of the four nations alone or combined can stand up to the fifth. They are eventually defeated, but more than that, wiped out. The fifth nation takes over their land, but the four nations and their people are gone. This is a major change. However, for such a big event… there are many fine details that require working out. How can it be changed, you might wonder. The details must be taken, one at a time. What if this person becomes general? What if the leadership of this country changes? Years must be spent, analyzing every detail. Then, perhaps after a dozen years… the four countries have a way to win the war.”
“Ah… I’m sorry,” William knew he shouldn’t have said anything, certainly not the way he did. “I didn’t realize the detail and effort that went into making divinations… practical.”
The old man coughed slightly. “Do not be bothered. Very few do.” He coughed again. “Excuse me. I am not used to speaking so much.” He turned to look at a person who had previously gone unnoticed, standing off to the side quietly. “Some water, please.” The servant went scurrying off. “Now, where was I. Ah yes, the four countries have a way to win the war. Yet somehow, nothing has changed. What then are they to do?”